We can speak all we want of an oppressive government. We can talk forever about marginalized communities. As bad as it is, and it can be horrifying, it can’t compare to what our government supports in other governments around the globe. Paz Errázuriz can fill in some of the caps in that story as it played out in Chile under Augusto Pinochet in the 70S and 80s.
I think about my own story, walking around snapping photos of this and that casually. My activities are scrapbooking really, capturing images of what the city looks like and what catches my eye and putting them up on social media. Some people might enjoy my photos. They do tell a story beyond my own. They may present a few angles that some people may miss as they rush to and fro. These people may enjoy them and it may even inspire them to pause here and there and appreciate what they never really noticed before. My photos are of no social import though. They’re not really telling anyone else’s story, and certainly not the story of people who are nowhere nearly as fortunate as myself. And I am not a photojournalist in any sense of the word. I live in privilege in a relatively privileged time and can come and go as I please.
Paz Errázuriz is telling important stories that may otherwise disappear into time. She is an artist. She is a photojournalist as well. There is a depth in these works and a gravity. It’s strange and horrible that people are rendered invisible, not only in Chile in the 80s, but here and now in The United States. The photos from the series I’ve chosen (the title of the series translates to Adam’s Apple) could well be taken in Brooklyn in 2021, or anywhere in the world. The world immediately surrounding us is layered like an onion and people on one layer of that onion may only ever see shadows of people on another layer, if they see them at all. Still, there are vital stories there. Until we understand those people on the other layers, we will never truly understand our world and hence ourselves. We are tied inseparably to people we may not know even exist.
Some of us live in automated houses, built upon the premise of The Internet of Things, and can start our dinners cooking from our cellphones so it will be hot and ready when we get home. We can punch addresses into computers in our cars and be led by the hand, so to speak, to any destination. Our lights switch on and off on a digital timer, along with the heat or air-conditioning. We have virtual trainers who guide us through routines on our exercise bikes. We can, or could prior to the pandemic, fly anywhere in the world when only a generation ago these places were just fantasy photos in travel magazines and National Geographic specials on television. And then there are still so many other stories that are connected in no way to our day to day realities. Until we see and understand and feel those people though we will never be entirely connected to ourselves.
And it’s ironic too that we do see representations of these people and ourselves in media. It’s usually in science fiction though, so-called futuristic dramas with vast divides in wealth and lifestyle. It’s the high-tech/low-life phenomena that began with obscure science fiction writers and were then transformed to images in blockbuster films like Bladerunner. Oh, but that’s the future though, right? Okay, right. If you say so. Life in the simulation…
Maybe that’s the draw of street photography and particularly the work of those capturing the stories that are usually only told in our fiction/science-fiction. Maybe it’s that the street photography reminds me/us that we do live in a simulation that only parallels reality, and maybe not even that closely. Some people are struggling to stay alive… or it could be said that we are all struggling and the sense of displaced anxiety that many of us can’t find the source of but is slowly killing us is the hidden struggle and denial that absolutely everything is absolutely not right. Survival is a linear struggle on many levels. It plays out entirely in a straight line. Then in the simulation is plays out on several at once. Something to consider. It could explain the fascination for the grainy and grimy. It’s something we are familiar with but can’t recall from exactly where we might be familiar with it. There is an element of blithe voyeurism for sure, but that’s not necessarily the sum of it. I believe we all see these images in focus and recognize that we are human. What we do with that information is entirely on us, but what has been seen cannot be unseen. Whether we take the red pill or the blue pill is on us.